Former Mesa Mayor Scott Smith has been hired to take over the agency that oversees the Phoenix area’s transit system. The previous executive, Stephen Banta, is under criminal investigation for questionable expenses. Smith will talk about his new role
Ted Simons: Former Mesa Mayor Scott Smith has been hired to take over Valley Metro, the agency that oversees the Phoenix area's transit system after the previous executive designed over questions over travel and expenses.
Scott Smith: Still sounds strange.
Ted Simons: Second day on the job.
Scott Smith: Thank you for having me in here.
Ted Simons: What is your role? What do you do? [laughter]
Scott Smith: Well, I run a very large and successful organization on an interim basis. No doubt Valley Metro has gone through tough times. I'm sure you're willing to ask me about that. That's not a secret. The boards of directors, the two boards that run Valley Metro, the come binds entities asked me to come and hopefully provide some stability while we transition into a permanent leadership. There's some humps we have to get over and some settling down but we also need to stay the course. That's what I have been brought in to do as CEO.
Ted Simons: You were the former Mayor of Mesa, ran for governor. Development field as well.
Scott Smith: People forget before I got in politics and became mayor of Mesa I had a 30-year business experience. I'm a CPA, an attorney, was an auditor, a turn-around, a specialty lift hired at one time by board of directors in a development company to come in because the company was under investigation by the FBI.
Ted Simons: Is that why -- why are you qualified? People say, mayor, loved him, hated him as mayor but what's he doing with this job?
Scott Smith: It's about leadership. A CEO is a leader of an organization, not the main technician, the leader. Creates the vision, brings people together to accomplish a goal and objective. Through my private experience, and link very serious situations, but also in public life, remember as mayor, we planned, financed and built the three mile extension of the light-rail through downtown Mesa so I'm very familiar with how that works. I think the combination of that leadership, contacts in Washington, the board believed and I believe that I can provide that kind of experience and knowledge but also the calming influence toward a permanent director.
Ted Simons: After the previous CEO, expenditure problems, travel problems. From where you sit, your plans, interim -- how long are you interested in this job?
Scott Smith: It's not whether I'm interested. I said I would stay ongoing until we can get some stability and get a new leader. Don't know how long that will last. It could be six weeks, six months, six years. We want to make sure we hire the right person. We provide the right kind of leadership because Valley Metro deserves it.
Ted Simons: Did the previous leadership -- criminal investigation with the Attorney General. Do you know anything about that? Do you know about the audit Phoenix supposedly having regarding expense accounts and such?
Scott Smith: There are three audits that are ongoing. I have had experience with those. I don't know what they will say. Whatever they say we'll take the criticisms and the findings and if there's something broken we're going to fix it. If there's a gap in controls we're going to plug it. We're going to move on to build an organization that gets beyond those problems. There's nothing I believe that will come out of the audits that is not fixable and we're going to do that.
Ted Simons: Has transparency -- been on the job two days. What have you done as far as oversight of expense -- are we going to have better idea of what people are doing?
Scott Smith: I think we will. Right now two days I think I just found where the bathroom is this afternoon. It was hard for two days to not know that. The idea is that we are totally opened up. One of the things I'm doing right now is to really find out what is going on, to get to know the organization, the lay of the land. I'll take the findings of the audits from professionals looking at the very details and we will create a plan that will fix the problems that will restore public confidence. That's the most important thing. We had over 70 million riders on our system last year. 56 million on the bus, 14 million on the train, couple million through dial a ride and others. This is a big system that has done incredible things. They have done more things right than the few bumps in the road. They have created a system that has been built under budget, usually before time, they operated -- there's great people at Valley Metro. We have to get them a system and control system to where the public has the confidence that the things they are doing are legitimate, watched and that they are worthy of their trust. We'll get them there.
Ted Simons: You think increased oversight not only is necessary but is going to happen there.
Scott Smith: Of course it has to happen because there's been a violation of the public trust. Whenever you have that you can't turn a blind eye. You have to look deeply and be honest. I have told the staff so far whatever comes out if there are gaps we're not going to overlook them. Our number one priority is to gain the trust of those people we serve. Elected officials, cities, employees, contractors, those who ride the system but more importantly those who entrusted us. Voters of Maricopa County who entrusted us with literally billions of dollars of their money to build and run a system and we're going to get there.
Ted Simons: You understand the impact of public perception. How much has Valley Metro been harmed by this?
Scott Smith: No doubt it's taken a hit. No doubt that something as high profile as that when you have then kinds of event that people begin to wonder. Was this a rogue employee with a single situation or is it systemic? We're going to find out. It's up to us to be open and honest about what happened and to say what we're going to do to fix that. We'll find out in the next few weeks.
Ted Simons: Separate and apart from those sorts of things, travel expenses, expenses that were curious to say the least, all sorts of accusations that they weren't on the up and up. Aside from all that the biggest issue facing Valley Metro?
Scott Smith: We have several big projects. We have the expansion of light-rail, expansion of bus service. Phoenix just passed the fourth time Arizona voters Maricopa County voters have gone to the ballot to support transit. A huge transit with Prop 104. We have to take those projects and fast track them. We have to expand service and give better service and we have to do it quickly and in a way that gains confidence with this cloud hanging over us. We'll get out from under this cloud. I have total confidence that we'll work through this situation, that people will regain the confidence; people will look at Valley Metro and see the great things it's done and have confidence of its ability to provide those great services going forward.
Ted Simons: Good to see you again.
Scott Smith: Good to see you. Thanks for asking me.
Scott Smith: Former Mesa Mayor